I was his cinematographer.
Earlier, when we were younger, we were best friends and, for a night, lovers. It was difficult because he was straight and liked girl-next-door types and I was basically appalled but we weren’t boogie so we could do it but it was, frankly, bogus, just to wild out. But even before that I was his cinematographer. He gave me minimal direction, but got what he wanted. Or, he seemed satisfied with what I gave him. We made eleven pictures together and a thousand side projects, experiments.
I’d like to tell this story without the mess of cult-of-personality bullshit that grew up eventually around him, a kind of star, but it’s hard. The problem is the cult-of-personality bullshit was part of him, his showmanship, his eagerness to be with people. Though I might be able to do it because even though it was part of him, it wasn’t essential to him. Sincerity can get you fucked but also might be all you have. A question of wisdom, knowing when to shut up.
People called him Henry but his real name was Hanbit Park. He was South Korean adopted by a well-meaning second generation Korean-American couple. It was against the grain but Henry’s mom was infertile and they had grown up middle-class and liberal and they decided to go for it. They hoped he would be as smart as them but he turned out smarter. When I met him, we had that in common because I’m Chinese-American but from Hester Street. My name is Yuan Jing but everyone calls me Why Jay. There were racial conflicts within him no doubt but you could hardly tell and he could hardly tell. These were deeply set contradictions for which he achieved solutions early on. I had dealt with my own set of contradictions by never having left New York City and I’m really not Chinese-American but, to be more accurate, Chinese-Manhattan. Not really contradictions but I guess they are unconscious forced choices or conscious choices forever held in stasis. By the time I met him that stuff was all comfortable jokes that rarely got anyone riled up but we both knew what skin we were.
At first no one thought he was an idiot. That’s important. That came later when I stopped knowing who he was. Even though I was with him every day until the end, I had stopped knowing who he was. But at first no one thought he was an idiot. In fact, everyone thought that he was rather smart. We met in art school. He was a painter and I was a videomaker. At that time we could have long conversations, in fact about anything, talking to hear ourselves talk, like:
“What do you think of Eva?”
“Don’t you think she’s young?”
“In what way?”
“What she said about labor and Mao.”
“It was just so textbook… so naive.”
“Do you think she’s foxy?”
“You should try to say that immediately. What you mean. The first time.”
“It saves energy.”
“Energy for what?”
“Efficiency is the default paradigm.”
“Don’t be self-hating.”
“Inefficiency is impossible; all is dance.”
“I hate the way you use ‘dance.’”
“Though maybe I believe you.”
“All is vanity?”
“About inefficiency being impossible.”
“In what way do you think she’s foxy?”
“Her hair, the way her clothes are misshapen, her irrepressible naïveté.”
“You’re a fucker.”
“Do you want to go to the movies?”
This was before people thought he was very smart because no one knew him. He would show off even. His showing off was not special but normal and because he really wasn’t sure of it yet and thought it was important to be smart. It probably is. I still show off which is why I think I’m a good DP. He appreciated that. This was a very small art school upstate for which our parents paid good money. Even the good students went around stoned all the time. We were bad students and the only drugs we liked were cigarettes and very sugary soda pop. One day a friend of ours committed suicide and we were devastated so we decided to make a movie. It didn’t happen like that—there were many months between the suicide and the announcement of our intention—but that’s the way I see it. Maybe that’s the lie of history or maybe that’s really how it happened. Philosophers are the silliest sort of people. Making the movie might have been my idea. If it was I’m very proud.
This first movie was nothing but it led to something. I’m not sure if that’s true. Maybe when the something came, it came of itself and was not dependent on the nothing before. That seems unlikely. I take back what I wrote about philosophers, but only on occasion. I shot the first movie on a cheap consumer cam. It was beautifully pixelated in an unbeautiful way but whose beauty becomes manifest by context. Is it just me or does speaking truthfully require abstracting everything to vagueness. To vagary? To vagaries? To vaguenesses. Even then. It’s a problem I’m not going to get caught up in right now.
The first movie was thirty minutes long and for which we spent months in rehearsal. The plot was that two friends go driving at late dusk. We called it I Owknay a Anmay. Though I said it was nothing, I still like it, though it gets listed as juvenilia in the filmographies. Henry and I are the friends in the car. I said I shot it but when I was in it, he shot it, but I lit it. Our friend who died’s funeral was where we were driving from. Not really where we’re driving from but fictionally. Henry said that what motivated it could be sentimental if we didn’t show it.
Our friend had been depressed. I had only known her for a year. Like us, she was twenty four. She was anorexic. Which is to be a hunger artist. Which is why girls do it not that they’re stupid but the opposite. But still it gets them in trouble. At the time Henry was dating her off and on. At the time, mostly off. She lived with some friends in a crappy townhouse and drove a Civic hatchback. When her housemates were gone for the weekend she drove the hatchback into the crappy townhouse’s two car garage and left the engine running.
In the film the sun is sunk and magic hour-y and in the course of the movie the darkness comes to surround us. It’s a country road and the dash’s light is a mix of pastelish colors I pushed, mostly the turquoise. This plays off our faces in a way that is unbelievable but pretty and makes me look a little sickish but him for some reason angelic. I’m talking a mile a minute, a whole monologue that Henry wrote which sounds adlibbed but was mostly written. About my (our friend’s) dreams and fears, a thing about ecoterrorism that was just a kick Henry was on, and how beautiful the field next to us was. Throughout also, I tell an unending series of lousy jokes that are very nerdy and not even really jokes but random factoids from which jokes could have been fashioned but weren’t. After we finished shooting, after Henry thought we had enough, he pulled the car over to the roadside and had a good cry. I sat next to him speechless. This would have been, according to Henry, when I mentioned it later, too dramatic to put in the movie. Later on I think he might have had a different view. That is, later, he tried to look at such things as best as he could, face on.
Editing it was where the movie came together. Henry was good at this from the beginning. He had had me shoot us at several different angles, inside and outside of the car, moving and not moving. And from this he made a flow of images that just interrupted the previous so that the whole appeared a constantly shifting, constantly falling acrobat’s trick. The film just catching itself to fall again. It went with the monologue and the whole thing climaxed with a flood of bright white light and a truck’s dopplering horn—moviespeak for close call. We submitted it for critique and everyone said the editing was too jumpy and that it was too long. Later on, of course, on these people we got our revenge.
After school we both moved to the city. I couldn’t get a job so moved back in with my parents. Henry found work at a comic bookstore and rented a room in Washington Heights. At first we saw each other regularly but then, I don’t know why, we started losing track of one another. Nothing abrupt. A slow melt.
It was probably for the best. I had gradually been sinking—for no reason I can determine except the obvious ones and even that is guessing—into a depression. I sweated through that time after graduate school, over a year, in my parents’ rancid apartment, holed up in my childhood bedroom and refusing to even come down for meals. Instead I ate instant noodles that I boiled to death in a hotpot and which I fortified with half a hotdog or an egg. It was, I think, an average depression. I mean it was horrible. I would sit in semen-stained underwear and flip through pornographic paperbacks or odd volumes of Penguin Classics. For me a story of a Georgio’s “enormous tool” or Crusoe’s discovery of a footprint were consumed equally, which is to say peevishly, without hardon or sweat. I alternated between napping and reading. On occasion my mother would get fed up with me and become such a shrew that I would have to leave the house, rather than take her nagging and her screeching. During those times I developed an odd habit.
I’d flee Chinatown’s clogged streets until I came to a relatively quiet streetblock, usually a treeshaded or cobblestoned one. And then I would only walk that city square’s single perimeter over and over, never leaving that piece of grid, always too at a steady purposeful pace. I would walk like this for hours until my shoes’ rubber soles would even start to deform. They began to wear out, oddly, on the back left-side of the heel. The hard white rubber of the sole would erode into a flesh-shaped curve and I remember spending a long time looking at its shape, imagining a chipped-off piece of some voluptuous statue. In fact, the deformation of my shoes became the sole point of these outings, for otherwise I can’t say I had any other thoughts.
One day, after eighteen months of this, for reasons—just as the beginning of my depression—that remain a mystery to me, I decided to go find Henry and photograph him.
I hadn’t left my parents’ apartment in a week. Stepping into the street, the sunshine felt as if it was burning off a layer of moss. Around my neck hung the camera my father had given me. I bought a canister of film, mustard-yellow, twenty-four exposures, indoor or out.
(Is it wrong to wonder what would have happened had Henry not been home? Or, in the nine months since I’d last seen him, what if he’d moved away? No doubt these are dumb speculations, but on more than one occasion, pondering that very nexus of fate has stolen my breath, reduced me to tears, and given me the holy heebie jeebies. The fragile merging of lines in your life too, fellow asshole—all raise hands!—to fill you with awe.)
Henry was home.
In one photo he’s answering the door in discolored sweatpants, shirtless, with that adolescent muscularity that still shaped his fatless chest and stomach. The waistband of his underwear shows and, peeking out of that, the fur of his pubes. His expression is caught at the beginning of a broad smile—for Henry is delighted to see me—but just the smile’s beginning so his face seems almost, no doubt was, astonished.
In another photo, Henry, now aware of the camera, has thrown on an off-white cotton pajama top with small black squares. He’s got his hand on his hips and is standing behind a low battered coffee table on top of which are the remnants of a breakfast he, or maybe we, have just finished: a plate of empty egg shells, a crust of toast, an almost empty quart of Johnny Walker Red. His eyebrows are lifted and he has an open ironic countenance that mimes some innocuous yet vapid phrase like, “Well, there you go!”
In still another photograph we see Henry’s rented room at the time. The photo is unpeopled, and the room is uncharacteristically neat. A made bed sports a dark blue comforter; the books are all perfectly arranged on a single bookshelf with their spines unbelievably flush; Henry’s toothbrush lays parallel to the edge of his folded washcloth on top of a small dustless bureau. It is this photo, among all the others, that proposed, much later, the stunning hypothesis that Henry too, in his own way, had been suffering.
So everything, again, changed. Now, when nothing does, or rarely does, or does so so unsurprisingly, it’s hard to remember how once it didn’t do anything but. A month after these photos were taken, we found a one bedroom apartment in Elmhurst, Queens. One of us slept on a cat-scratched dull blue couch. The other had the bedroom, which came with garbage stink and traffic racket but also had a little privacy. We traded couch for bed every fortnight and barely made rent every month by stringing together a series of the usual impossible jobs: bookstore, videostore, movie house, catering, coffee shop, back to bookstore. I did the cooking. When Henry would get a little glum over yet another meal of bread and beans or spaghetti with watery marinara or fried baloney sandwiches, I’d say, “Henry, let’s go to the movies!”
We liked going to the moves in the daytime and this led to some problems: we kept getting fired for not being at work. Or, we kept getting caught sneaking into the movies because we didn’t have any money because we had gotten fired because we hadn’t gone to work because we had gone to the movies in the daytime. We didn’t of course have to see movies in the daytime but it was better in the daytime and we were selfish and we were, we decided, gourmands. (Though one understands what someone means when they refer to a song or songs as making up the soundtrack to their lives, a similar metaphor here would be deficient in describing our mania for and relationship to, the movies we saw. It wasn’t that they colored our mood but rather transformed our eyes and ears into cameras and microphones in order that we could continue the movies after their final frame. Our lives were the movies to our movies.
Which would have led to madness, its piling on of artificiality upon artificiality and its preference of the imaginary to the actual, its sight never unframed, its constantly deferred reality. Except that eventually it became unmistakable that we didn’t have microphones for ears, nor cameras for eyes.)
“Let’s go to the movies Henry!”
Since we’d gotten caught at almost every good movie theater in the city—the matinees were a particular bitch to sneak into—we had to pay our way in, one day, to see Bresson’s Pickpocket. We’d already plundered the couch for yesterday’s dinner of canned cream corn so were truly penniless, but I’d sparked Henry’s ambition and we were on the hustle. Best anyway with our back against the wall…
We hopped the turnstile and headed downtown, a little heady with the intellectual symmetry of our day. We were going to cheat and rob all morning—teeny misdemeanors that were more like the mosquito’s résumé than an urchin’s rapsheet—in order to see a film about the same, albeit of a different order. The title of the day was Busman’s Holiday or Crime and No Punishment. I was ecstatic to be with my love (for our homoerotics had nothing to do with skintouch) and almost giggled as we burst out of the train station at West Fourth. We swiped a newspaper and made our way to the park. There we fanned out, each with half the paper, and tried to find an interesting face to draw. We were both armed with a thick sharpie—his green and mine blue. One half a newspaper sheet was apt canvas for our rushed caricatures. I never made much—though the routine taught me to bluff well—usually just taking my pathetic sketch to a rich-looking girl and making eyes for the buck. Sheer numbers took me to the quota. Henry was more skilled and drew a delicate line but wouldn’t part with the portrait for less than ten, or, at minimum, a spiritual payment in the form of some everyday gesture, by his subject, which he could take to be sublime and so justify the transaction for less. He would instruct me, “At least get an eyeful of boob!”
An hour later we had the day’s pocket money and could even afford a hot cup of coffee. I bummed a smoke and we reclined like two Adonis on a park bench, masters of the universe.
“Yes Sir Flatulence.”
“Is mortality the enemy or ugliness?”
“Loss of speed, one. Forgetfulness, two.”
“Most definitely. But its power, like gods, in your belief.”
“Yes, you obsequious starry-nosed mole.”
“The question of intelligent life?”
“In the cosmos?”
“The pastime of invalids.”
“And the great poets?”
“Bed wetters, lesbians, and premature ejaculators to the one.”
“Should we weep for our idleness?”
“We should be ecstatic our schlongs hold blood!”
“May I bum you another cigarette?”
“By all means Philosopher! And for your mitzvah may you live a thousand years!
Other days—less triumphant with puerile triumphs—we sat at home all day, television muted but screening a run-down copy of Annie Hall or Ichi the Killer or Mirror or Pink Flamingos or Dune, playing backgammon for pennies. Backgammon was a passion of Henry’s, a momentum-shifting and fitful footrace of black and white rocks, which he loved. And so we played hours of it. Usually we were silent, letting the muted images on the overly-red tinted screen encode the air—even when our back was turned to it—with dialogue and music and sound long ago memorized by sheer repetition. A sound in mind—more rich than the rattle of the dice, the click of the stones, our puffed curses—so that, at pivotal moments in the films, we would look at each other to karaoke from prompts of bounced light thinner by needs than gossamer:
“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”
And then without laughing, without acknowledging what we were doing was mimicry, was performance, was the ritual of religion—we continued our game.
But other times we talked, and not surprisingly we spoke about our mania, this encroaching thing. And once in a while it would get pragmatic and I or he would say:
“Let’s make a movie.”
And one day I or he said:
“Let’s make a movie.”
And he or I said:
“Oh I don’t care. How about—“
“—a war film.”
“A war film?”
“A war film.”
“A war film!”
Which is how Imetay of the Olfway began . . . so that from then on, both of us nurtured the idea of war and, like two animal mothers with our cub, we grew and marveled and were made innocent again by continual meditations on the larger forces of which we were merely part. . . forces like those which produced Little Boy and Fat Man, M16s and landmines, Agent Orange and sarin gas.
I wanted, believe it or not, to make it a love story. Some entwining of man and woman in a bomb shelter. Some grubby lovemaking in a city-ruin sizzling in rain after a bomb-made fire. Maybe a war profiteer who meets and helps a resistance organizer. Something Casablanca—glamorous and impossibly choreographed, pure in fantasy.
Henry instead saw an empty landscape—equal parts lunar desert and industrial park—where a small army squad, a band of four or five outsiders, were continuously patrolling. I acquiesced immediately, especially after Henry said that two in the patrol could be lovers. I’m not a doormat, but—I loved playing with Henry so that even if my ideas seemed to be always jettisoned for his, I was happy. And actually later, much later, when it was done, I realized he’d fully digested my soap operatics, and had even taken, really, the idea much further. The double agent, the momentary alliances, the jealousies and affairs—and my idea to Henry the DNA of it, I flatter myself to think. . .
Meanwhile, due to our daytime movie habit, we began to meet a few people. We started recognizing them at the theaters, distinguishing them from the retirees and blue moon hooky players. These were the hardcore set, like ourselves, who willingly and regularly traded their daylives for fake-night. At first we were reluctant to approach them and they us, because solitude was part of the good taste. But eventually we knew each other, broaching ground in dusty review-lined foyers, encounters perfumed with liquid butter and glass cleaner.
Iris-adjusting, stepping through doors into the shadows of day-embarrassed shabby marquees, we made acquaintance as vampires might, by our shared addiction. At Yojimbo we met David. At Zabriskie Point we met Shel and Judy. At Sorry, Wrong Number we met Emil. At some Hollywood dreck we met Sascha. At some more Hollywood dreck we met Nicky. At Thelma and Louise we met Eunice. The whole core crew really—daytime moviegoers.
Sascha owned then a café in Long Island City. In those Last Days of Analog, it was kindly reminiscent of a bohemia long since evaporated, and for that reason was always packed with delinquent students, color-blind painters, tin-eared poets, and, above all, hack film directors—all nursing cups of coffee, scheming endless and improbable egomanias, while ogling the good-looking kids behind the counter. Nostalgic for a Europe he had never himself seen but one his parents had conjured over hot chai and half-melted sugar cubes, Sascha had named the place The Artist Café. After our group’s first film made a splash Henry got him to change the name to the Long Island City Kinoclub, but we continued to call it The Café. It weathered the changes well, continuing for quite awhile to serve its watery coffee and stale confections in yardsale housewares, its oilcloth tabletops forever spotted and grimy, the bathroom perennially reeking of pisswater, the waitstaff always inscrutably gorgeous. On any given weekday, immediately following the first matinee, small groups of us daytime moviegoers would begin straggling in from across the city. A Natasha or a Piotr or a Tammy would put on two fresh new pots of brown water and we would without fail begin to tip them enormously, overpowered by their beauty.
By mutual unsaid agreement, Henry and I had decided not to tell the rest of the group about our war movie idea, though privately we began to speak special words in the idea’s language, hoping I think, to augment our wills and make the shift to production by something as sneaky as vocabulary. Sniper we whispered to each other. And refugee. We pillowtalked: trench and fuselage. We gaga’d: boxcutter and incoming.
But to the group we feared loose lips would sink ships and also I, at least, was secretly very scared that we would be too incompetent… Nonetheless things began to ripen. We started to have weekly kaffeeklatsches at Emil’s or at Shel and Judy’s to watch each others’ work: student films, video diaries, faux industrials, earnest documentaries. In overhot or overcool apartments, we tried to make meaningful comments about our stillborn ideas, thrown up in pale light against pockmarked and recently-cleared drywalls. In our cluttered and dirty rooms we held embarrassing workshops where we showed ourselves—secretly and openly—to be merely talented amateurs. Overpraise, vapid kindnesses and premeditated hostilities were the energies and excretions that started to circulate and bring life to this humble and new biosphere. It would all have been mortally shameful if we hadn’t also felt a simultaneous amassing of potential, some tomorrow’s leap generated by our thousands of errors.
Only Henry didn’t participate.
He may have stayed away initially from these meetings out of a predictable combination of pride and fear, but soon he had a better excuse.
Emil was doing the lighting for a puppet show one night and Henry and I decided to go. The troupe was somewhat well-known for a kind of instantaneous and momentary urban renewal. They would find a rundown spot and transform it into a temporary stage for whatever they were doing that night—Butoh or Chekhov or Grotowski. The sets they made were contemporary and tasteful and undoubtedly rich, and the troupe consciously made no effort to blend, to contextualize, or to incorporate the blight in which they worked. Their only informing gesture was that they had chosen to work there, and that that particular site—a crack house porch or bleak Chinese fast-food counter or boarded up arson victim—was one in a string of like poverties. A baldly elitist act, a slumming that, if it did, redeemed itself, merely and only, by foregrounding its own snobbery.
That Saturday the “set” was a derelict gas station’s glass cashier’s booth. Nothing else in the vicinity seemed to be electrified. The only other lights came from the unending river of cars on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that curved above and around us. The ground shook when trucks ran over the highway’s seams and in the distance, when the overpass sloped downward, we saw the BQE’s artery of brakelight-red corpuscles, above which the night gaped black.
When the show began, a quivering light grew inside the glass booth—first glowing purple then brightening to pink and finally bursting forth in yellowing orange. Underneath the finally risen bulb of Emil’s cleverly engineered sunrise, a weathered ship seemed to grow into view. Above the undulating light that signified ocean water, the boat drew close enough for us in the audience to finally read the name painted on its berth: it was the Pequod.
A scene change later, the evening’s star—and her avatar—appeared, peglegging across a broad deck, waves of blue paper wafting in the background. The gas station’s Ahab turned out to be a wooden doll with two distractingly long black braids. She looked more like a cartoon Pocahontas than a puppeted Ahab. She was held in the hands of a fleshier version of herself who yelled out her/their first lines: “That GOD-damn whale!”
The production’s storyline was, albeit abbreviated, scrupulously faithful, and if it hadn’t been for one thing I would have been, I believe, somewhat dismissive of the production as novelty. The wooden dolls’ faces had no features: the heads were only wigged or hatted eggs of blank pine wood. In order to express an emotion for their puppets, the puppeteers simply made the expression on their own faces. All the actors, so to speak, were therefore doubled. The puppets gestured and in general it was their moves we followed across the stage, but it was the puppeteers who spoke and whose faces we watched. Of these the braided dark-haired Ahab was the most dynamic, and because of her, I was enthralled.
Henry too, it turned out. He got Emil to introduce the woman to us after the show. Her name was Diane Fearings, and immediately upon learning this, Emil and I withdrew to discuss aspects of the show’s lighting, leaving her to Henry.
I don’t know why I never made a play for Diane, or, I know why but it’s both difficult and inexact to say. I was in love with Henry but that was more possessive than sexual. Diane excited me but somehow I knew her glamour was better suited to Henry’s hyperactivity and showmanship, was—in my instant and final estimation—too much for me . . . So Emil and I withdrew and when Henry and Diane said they were going to head to a bar for a drink, Emil and I both made our excuses and, instead of joining them, shuffled on home.
For two months after I barely saw Henry but for excited and rushed recaps (“YJ—This girl is amazing”). I regularly received guilty phone messages deferring yet again another meeting, but—he was so infectiously happy that I had no options but to be generous. Also, he dangled an unrefusable carrot my way by hinting that Diane was going to be the perfect spark to make our war-movie catch fire.
So I—and the LICK neophytes—waited, not yet knowing we were doing so, for Henry.
In fact, we thought we were doing things!
We met, for instance, on a cold Wednesday morning on top of the Brooklyn Bridge.
It looked like it was going to rain or perhaps the year’s first snow, but we were all dressed poorly for the weather. People were beginning to walk over the bridge to Manhattan, to work. The fashion had turned a strange combination of outdoorsy and space age and so these commuters, unlike us, were equipped for the weather, dressed head-to-toe in synthetic fibers. Their coats were lined with brand new polymers; their sweaters were thin and peculiarly fuzzy; their pants made swish swish sounds as they walked. In contrast we had on jeans and grayed sneakers, thin cotton T-shirts underneath second-hand coats. Someone in our group flipped open a junky umbrella. We looked appropriately miserable. The commuters didn’t notice—their sweat was wicked from the bodies, their heat was trapped.
Judy Chan said, “What are we doing here?”
“YJ wants to scout locations.”
I said: “Who knows when you’ll need a feeling. We’re collecting moods. We’re trying to see places and times everyone has already seen and re-seen but we’re trying to see them different.”
“There’s no script. We’re not working on a movie. How can we scout locations if we don’t have a movie?”
“That skyline, even though it’s always changing, never changes. New York City is the most filmed city in the world. How could you shoot this bridge? Looking up into the matrix of its cables? From the water with those gothic buttressed towers reflecting or shadowed by dusk? In a fog or rain or under a blanket of snow? It’s been done done done.”
“This is, forgive me for saying so, but isn’t it? an example of the cart before the horse.”
“So how do you do it? From what high rise window, or helicopter door, or down what wide avenue, or what defaced storefront, or which dilapidated scrumbled building face could you shoot? For originality? For uniqueness? Brand newness? None.”
“How do a horse and cart work? Maybe you don’t know. Maybe you’re too modern.”
“On the other hand, you can never step in the same river twice, right? I mean when there’s so much flux how can you copy anyone else? How can you be unoriginal, when push comes to shove, yes?”
“They each have separate functions, which combine. I could draw a picture.”
“I mean, upon pointing your camera at the city’s constant morph, what could you possibly repeat? It’s a question then of tuning into the flux, allowing all the thousand familiarities to make the necessary collage.”
“To anticipate and capture that moment of caprice is what we’re doing. To practice. To attune.”
Other times we met and did acting exercises. Endless hours of stretching and warming up, manipulating our bodies into joint-defying asanas. Face contortions, sphincter manipulations, deep cleansings. We collided various body parts routinely, smacking surfaces together so the thuds would echo into our cold rooms, in the name of spontaneity. We pretended to be things: gods, atoms, glaciers. We mimed our neighbors, our fathers, our mothers, each other, ourselves. We created situations—nothing more—and improvised.
One room in Shel and Judy’s apartment was permanently dedicated to set design. Each week the room would become something else: a library, an ad executive’s office, a suburban porch, a beach, a china shop. Sometimes we did our acting exercises there, if only to use the room for something.
David took his microphone everywhere but would only record when no one was speaking, or when crowd sounds made language unknowable. He had thousands of hours of ambient sound descriptively catalogued by timbre, by fluorescent light and air-conditioner hums, by alarm octaves and P.A. hiss.
It wasn’t that we were incapable of combining our talents into a show, into a production, into a film, but—we were afraid of commitment. We loved the anticipation, the endless flexing of muscle, the dress-up before the date. We were scared of failure but it wasn’t only that: we were happy. Already it felt like we were winning so why win?
Eventually, it seems inevitably, Henry returned—with Diane—and said, “Don’t let happiness get in the way of your happiness.”
He said, “Let’s make a film!”
As soon as he said it we were furious but also, immediately knew we didn’t have a choice. It was as if a dimension that had always been with us, but had been draped, had instantly been revealed, showing now a more credible path so that what we had thought was of the utmost meaning, turned meaningless and stale. His statement left no other choice.
So smashed our Eden, if we believe my memory.
Eugene Lim’s writing can be read at elimae.com and sonaweb.net. He Lives in Fort Greene.